Friday, November 30, 2012
VOC: Voice of the Complainer
The other month I purchased a publication on-line from a large international organization. I am a fairly regular user of their services. They are well known as a provider of excellent books including texts, guidelines, and standards. If their prices are not cheap, generally they are fair and their shipping times are pretty fast. In the world of Quality it is pretty much the place for one stop shopping. I will say that in the past I have had some challenges with their marketing strategies when it comes to education and group purchases, but we were and are making progress in that area.
Sounds good. Yes?
Then about 2 weeks later I got an email request to complete a customer satisfaction survey.
Probably like you, I am getting a little fatigued by customer satisfaction surveys. It is not that I don’t think they are important. I know they are an important component of the Voice of the Customer (VOC). If taken seriously they are an essential part of the continual improvement process of Quality. We don’t do them because ISO9001 requires them; if anything, it is the reverse. ISO9001 requires them because the Quality community advises that it is critical that we listen to the VOC.
Anyways for a number of reasons I decided to follow through to survey completion, and that was a truly tragic mistake. I have written about satisfaction surveys in the past [see: Satisfaction. http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2011/06/satisfaction.html and http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2012/07/7th-rule-for-customer-satisfaction.html ].
The survey that they presented broke every rule in the book. It was forever long, tedious, complicated, and pointless. And if you decided to pass a complicated question, it bounced you back until you finally responded. It had to be one of the most painful experiences that I had undertaken in a long time.
So what to do. The simple answer is to “X” out and move on. In all likelihood that is probably what 99 percent of the receivers of this particular survey do. But then I decided that since they started the conversation, that I would participate in the other side of VOC, giving Voice to the COMPLAINANT.
Without going into detail, I found the name of the head of marketing and the president of the company and sent a missive informing them that I didn’t think it reasonable or appropriate that they punish their repeat customers. The chance of their ever receiving any useful information from this survey was zero. This was a survey designed by someone who gets some personal satisfaction in creating complexity with total disregard to the person at the other end.
I know that some, perhaps all readers think this a waste of time. “X” out and move on, and the next time I receive another survey from this company just discard it too. End of story. But I will argue that if we are really committed to Quality as a valued process, then we have an obligation to go one step further. If we don’t let people know that we are not satisfied then we have not completed the cycle. We have stopped the conversation one step too soon.
Someone once said that a picture is equal to a 1000 words. Can you measure complaints by a similar scale? I have been told that for every complaint you receive, there are at least 10 that were not received. I think that may be true, although I would suspect in the electronic era the number is a lot larger. In CMPT in our satisfaction metric we give each complaint a value of “negative 10” and each complement a value of “positive 1”. We think we learn a lot more from concern than from satisfaction. Compared to our internal audits, management reviews, and certification audits, complaints rank probably as our second greatest driver for review. Fortunately we don’t get all that many (maybe one formal complaint every 4-5 years) but when someone is angry enough to sit down and hammer out a complaint, the least we can do find out what is going on, and if the problem is ours and we can and should make adjustments, then we do.
In any event, I have had a conversation with the president and was assured that my message was received, and that changes to the survey were on the planning table. My complaint has moved them to a higher priority.
We will see.
Bottom line. Asking for and listening to VOC is an important part of Quality. We do have some obligation to be a part of the conversation, especially when we are not happy.